“Quiet sea and quiet sky,
Idle sail and anchored boat,
Just a snowflake gull afloat,
Drifting like a feather—
And the gray hawk crying,
And a man's heart sighing—
That is blue-bird weather:—
And the high hawk crying,
And a maid's heart sighing
Till lass and lover come together,—
This is blue-bird weather.”
This winsome little ditty is at the heart of Robert Chambers' short novel, Blue-Bird Weather. First serialized in 1911, it was later published in its complete form in 1912.
The story features Mr. Marche, the very model of the Chambersian hero. He's young, straight-limbed, fair-haired scion of an upper-crust family. He's taken his family business (something white collar and vaguely finance-y), carried it through times good and bad and now, he's off on a well-deserved vacation.
Mr. Chambers' male heroes fall into two categories: the foppish and the flawed. In the diabetic's nightmare that was The Green Mouse, Mr. Chambers had a surfeit of the former. A vast array of insipid blue-blooded twits, propagating the species with their equally vapid mates. In his more serious romances, for example, The Firing Line and The Fighting Chance, the protagonists are about 90% perfect. For external viewing purposes, they maintain their Aryan sensibilities - but inside, they're plagued with alcholism, depression or some other un-Godly-flaw that can only be cured by the love of a good woman.
In Blue-Bird Weather, Mr. Marche happily falls into the latter category. Not a member of the idle rich, he's hard-working and no fan of decadence. Moreover, after five years with no vacation, his doctor has sent him packing for a week - March is given the choice of a holiday or the "funny house". Years ago, Marche and his friends went in together and bought a hunting lodge and a small island in the Chesapeake region. An appointed superintendent (Mr. Herold) lives on the island and makes sure the game remains plentiful. Although an extravagant purchase, Marche and his club-mates eschewed the opulent hunting mansions of their peers and went for a simpler, more rustic feel.
Blue-Bird Weather begins with Marche approaching the lodge - someplace, mind you, he hasn't seen for at least five years. He's resigned himself to being "out of the office" for a week, but at least he has the good manly pursuit of hunting and the good manly company of the gamekeeper. Except, of course, he doesn't.
The hunting is completely fouled by the titular "blue-bird weather". The gray days and damp weather have created a malaise amongst the local waterfowl and they don't rush to the slaughter. Perhaps more disturbingly, Mr. Herold is ill and completely confined to his room, leaving Marche in the care of his 18 year old daughter, Molly.
Marche goes through the complete range of emotions. Initially - and to his credit, very briefly - he's a little perturbed that the gamekeeper has fobbed him off with his daughter. This quite quickly moves into admiration. Molly, despite being a woman (and a right purty one, of course), is a cracking hunter. She not only does all the peasant-y tasks of smashing bushes about and the woman-y tasks of cooking all the meals but also is a fine shot. Better, in fact, than Marche. (To his credit, he's not particularly perturbed about this either.)
This admiration - one sportsman to another - soon migrates towards something more serious. Molly's attractive figure and "cool, gray eyes" certainly spark an appreciation in Marche, but he's also drawn to the way that she cares for her younger brother (including an insistence that he learn his Latin) and her mysteriously absent father. It also becomes clear that she's been the acting superintendent for some time, with a talent for figures and for business.
Despite the simplicity of the story, Mr. Chambers had managed to imbue Marche's dawning awareness of Molly with a sort of rustic poetry. Mr. Chambers' predilection for florid prose is tempered by his very palpable appreciation of their natural surroundings. As is the theme in such fiction from Hemingway to Fowles, the island and woman become inextricably linked and the man falls for them both. In Marche's case (like Fowles' Magus), this does not happen unopposed:
His was not even a friendly gaze, now; there was more than dawning alarm in it—an irritated curiosity which grew more intense as the seconds throbbed out, absurdly timed by a most remarkable obligato from his heart.
He gazed stonily upon this stranger into whose life he had drifted only a week before, whose slumbers he felt that he was now unwarrantedly invading with a mental presumption that scared him; and yet, as often as he looked elsewhere, he looked back at her again, confused by the slowly dawning recognition of a fascination which he was utterly powerless to check or even control. (73)
However, this is Robert Chambers, not John Fowles. Marche meets Molly, Marche falls for Molly. If Marche has to overcome his own class-related snobbery (the first thing he does as a "kindness" is buy Molly some good hand soap, as her worn hands were upsetting him), he'll do so in a hurry.
This last hurdle is where the author bangs his toe. Mr. Herold is revealed, unveiled and overcome in the course of a few short pages. As a last-minute explosion, he is a very damp squib. My initial sense was merely that he was dead - that Molly had been running the island on her own for years and needed to keep his demise a secret. Alas, it was nothing so interesting. Mr. Herold is very much alive and very much boring.
Still, it isn't like the outcome is ever in doubt. Blue-Bird Weather is saturated in Kincaidian landscape prose and Mr. Chambers' typically plutocratic social leanings - everything is clearly going to be just fine. However, despite the caveats of the above, Blue-Bird Weather is a charming little tale and one that has dated oddly well. Marche is a good man, Molly a good woman and it is impossible not to wish them well. For readers looking for an introduction to Mr. Chambers' society romances in a less risky way (that is, less challenging and less eye-gaugingly dreadful), Blue-Bird Weather makes a good start.
[Editor's note: Blue-Bird Weather is available as a free ebook (with all the illustrations!) from Project Gutenberg. The Repairer of Reputations is our Quixotic attempt to redeem the forgotten works of Robert W. Chambers.]